by: Kelly Fliller
Director of Communications, Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation
with contributions from:
CEO, Count Basie Theatre
Dr. Brent Hasty
Executive Director, MINDPOP
What happens when multiple stakeholders come together to address an issue? Ideas are born, communication flows, solutions are created and change happens. This is called collective impact. Too often, organizations are seen working on the same issue in their own silos and while they can come up with effective solutions and strategies, the impact is much greater when leaders come together and combine forces.
In order for collective impact to be successful, there must be a common agenda. Everyone at the table should have a shared vision on the subject matter. There needs to be an understanding of why each person is there and a common approach to solving the problem. Any differences should be discussed openly and resolved as they appear.
Trust, communication and agreed-upon outcomes measurements are the other key pieces to collective impact. The group must share a process of collecting data and measuring success. Each activity should be coordinated with and support the actions of others. A huge component to collective impact is developing trust which happens through communication. While everyone is there to support the cause, they all still care about their own interests. It’s important that communication stays open and ongoing so everyone feels heard and has their priorities taken care of fairly and equally. Working together to solve a problem and achieve a common goal can be very powerful if done correctly.
Finally, there has to be a backbone organization that provides overall support to the collective impact initiative. This means guiding the vision and mission of the project and making sure everyone stays focused on the right targets. The backbone will provide added support with administrative functions, build public will and assemble the necessary financial resources for the collective impact initiative.
Count Basie Theatre Collective Impact Initiative – Creative Teaching
Adam Philipson, CEO of the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey held a board meeting where he talked about his work in creative teaching, an approach to teaching that integrates fine and performing arts as a pathway for learning. Jeremy Grunin, President of the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation and also a member of the Count Basie Theatre Board, was excited to hear about this work and quickly set up meetings to discuss further. The collective impact process had begun. The Grunin Foundation brought their NJ Arts partners to the table. Adam brought in Brent Hasty, Executive Director of MINDPOP out of Austin, Texas who, in partnership with the Austin Independent School District (ISD) and the City of Austin, has implemented creative teaching strategies in their schools to get the entire city working on this pilot to make all Austin schools “Creative Campuses” by 2023.
This year, six schools in New Jersey (three in Ocean County and three in Monmouth County) are in a pilot phase where data is being collected so training, coaching and partnerships with experienced arts organizations can be expanded. Changes in students’ attitudes, attendance and test scores will be measured over time to gauge the success of creative teaching and the impact of increased arts education. New Jersey will benefit from following Austin’s lead by using what was successful and leaving behind what did not work or would not work in the NJ system. The pilot year is being used to learn how to adapt.
The big question is, what happens when principals and students work together with the community to develop an arts plan to ensure schools have access to the benefits of creative teaching and the arts? The answer can be seen in the improved outcomes for both schools and the community. When principals and arts professionals think deeply together, they generate excitement for both learning and instruction. There is statewide legislation that supports the importance of equal access to the arts in the classroom. The work that is going on throughout the state is an opportunity for schools in Ocean and Monmouth Counties to be more primed for what is happening at the state level.
By implementing creative strategies, teaching becomes more engaging and not just about preparing for the test. Teachers are using creativity more and more and are becoming magicians in the classrooms. Using the arts to teach any subject engages students and makes learning participatory. The students aren’t just listening; they are taking an active role in the lesson. Creative teaching involves finding unique ways to teach all subjects so students learn how to think differently – to analyze, to synthesize, to generate ideas, to communicate their understanding in many different formats. And research shows that when people translate their learning from text to images or images to text, they retain the content almost twice as long. For example, a teacher might use an acting technique called “tableau” to teach students to understand specific historic moments by using one tableux to create a representation of their historical understanding using facts from primary sources, and a second image to fill in the missing pieces using historical speculation. Tools like this give teachers and students a concrete form to discuss how historical narratives are created.
According to research conducted in Austin by the school district and MINDPOP, students who are exposed to creative teaching show improved academic achievement on standardized tests and are more likely to enjoy going to school. These students have fewer discipline problems and higher attendance. Creative teaching leads to more engagement in school as students have their own personal experiences valued when learning different subjects. School becomes more challenging and more interesting. Dr. Hasty says, “Creative teaching represents a very effective way to design instruction that not only appeals to students’ sense of wonder and imaginations, it also requires serious cognitive effort and complex thinking. It’s the best of all worlds for students and teachers alike – it’s fun, it’s rigorous and it’s relevant.”
Research is clear that kids benefit when they have access to the arts and creative teaching but schools cannot do this alone. The community must come together to support this initiative. The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation and Count Basie Theatre are taking the lead to make sure there is enough fuel to make this happen. “We felt the greatest opportunity we had to affect long-lasting change was through a collective impact initiative,” said Adam Philipson CEO and President of the historic Count Basie Theatre, “Assembling education, philanthropic, arts and civic leadership we collectively address a critical issue – how to make our communities and schools more creative and arts rich. And as the backbone organization of the initiative we can foster fantastic relationships that will move us closer to the ultimate goal.”